Talk of wolves lurking in the hills made her scoff, but she endured his company nonetheless, more, he suspected, for the fact that she might get lost without him than anything.
On these outings, she did not dress at all like a woman of her station. A man's trousers, a pair of her father's likely, served where a habit would not. Over it, she wore a loose, linen shirt, damp now at the back, and belted with a length of rope like a waif. But her boots were good and costly calfskin, meant more for riding a palfrey along manicured trails than clambering over rocks and streams.
Before the morning had worn into afternoon, they reached the "garden," a well-known but difficult-to-reach spot with a scattering of trees and a view well down the hill to the farmsteads and guarded walls of Ost-in-Edhil. They sat in the shade and filched cherries off the branches, spitting the pits in the grass, knees brushing. Their conversation rose and fell, wandering as the wind amid the grasses.
And in-between the silences, he mustered his courage.
She lay on her back, her fine boots beside her, her hair loosening in its tail and clinging to her neck. It looked very bright against the grass. It had been a water-starved summer.
By increments, by accident, his hand, independent of the rest of him, began to move. It was a longer journey than their climb, for every pause in her idle speech made him freeze as if snared in the hawk's gaze. He was sweating under his homespun tunic, unforgivably aware of the utter disparity in their stations, ages, temperaments, lives. His hand stilled its slow creep.
Still talking of something he could no longer follow, she reached over, perfect with fearlessness, and wove her fingers with his.